The Future of Right Wing Extremism October 03, 2021
Dr. Barbara Perry spoke for Orion Talks about the future of far-right extremism and discussed policies around the designation of domestic terrorist organizations. Dr. Perry is a Professor and the Director of the Centre on Hate, Bias, and Extremism at Ontario Tech University in Canada.
Dr. Barbara Perry is the Director of the Centre on Hate, Bias, and Extremism at Ontario Tech University. She has written extensively in the area of hate crime and right-wing extremism. Dr. Perry has also written on policing diverse communities, including work on social control in Native American communities. She has made substantial contributions to the limited scholarship on hate crime in Canada. Most recently, she has contributed to a scholarly understanding of anti-Muslim violence, hate crime against LGBTQ communities, the community impacts of hate crime, and right-wing extremism.
Suat Cubukcu: In
2020, even before the January 6th attack to the U.S. Congress, the U.S. government and Congress announced that white supremacists and other right-wing
extremists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat to the United
States. When we look at the last decade,
we see far-right groups multiplied and be responsible for more attacks than any
other groups from different ideologies, including Salafi Jihadist
organizations. In the light of these developments and in the aftermath of the January
6th insurrection, how do you see the future of far-right extremism in the
Western world, especially Canada, the U.S.? Do you think far-right groups will
be more part of mainstream politics or continue to be more marginalized groups?
Barbara Perry: I think it really depends on a number of factors; I think that that the COVID is certainly given the far-right renewed energy if you will. I think they play to the widespread populace and concerns about lockdowns, vaccinations, and vaccination passports. All those sorts of things and factors associated with COVID lockdowns, loss of business, loss of employment is being really nicely exploited by the far right, and bring people in through conspiracy theories and sympathy for their plight, and then start to weave in some of these more traditional narratives, including the anti-Semitism, the anti-Asian narratives that lead into anti-immigrant narratives and anti-globalization and anti-multiculturalism. So, it really is sort of a slippery slope. You get people in under one pretense and then begin to groom them, if you will, and feed them these other narratives as well. I think that is the real risk right now, playing on those populace concerns. I think that in the Canadian context and our conversation is very timely, a week after the election, but it seems like it was a very long time ago. We saw there; you know there that the People's Party of Canada also playing into the hands of the far-right and sharing those same kinds of narratives conspiracy theories, the anti-science, and anti-lock down narratives there.
There are two places where you start to see that bleeding of the extreme in the mainstream; one is the integration of mainstream concerns into the right and the success of those sort of right wing, I would say extreme right wing, but more right wing than we've ever seen in terms of a very visible political party in the Canadian context.
Suat Cubukcu: Thanks for mentioning the elections. Do you think to what extent do far-right political parties (such as, Right People's Party in Canada or the Alternative for Germany Party [AfD] in Germany) interact with the far-right extremist groups (such as Proud Boys, Oat Keepers)? Do you think there are significant level transitions from political parties to violent extremist groups or vice versa?
Barbara Perry: I think it's a new experiment for Canadians, so this is really something new to us to see this kind of success from a right-wing party. In my memory, we didn't have a right-wing party as popular as this. I mean 800,000 votes, just around 6% of the popular vote went to the People's Party of Canada.
There also are very clear connections between white nationalists, white supremacists, and that particular party in the Canadian context. We saw very early on, as soon as Bernier created the party, there was a flood of white supremacists, white nationalists followed him to the party and thought that was their party. Finally, there was a voice for them in Canadian politics. Many of them didn't stay because he didn't go quite far enough for them. But many did stay because he was sharing their narratives, and I think we saw that again in this election. But again, not necessarily explicitly around the anti-immigration, the anti-diversity, the anti-multiculturalism, where we saw that same overlap and intersection of the People's Party's and the far-right's stance on public health measures, the anti-statism, and the anti-Trudeau sentiment as well. Bernier essentially crowned himself the leader of the anti-lock down movement six or eight months ago and was very visible and very vocal speaking at so many of the larger rallies across the country. He was very happy to have to embrace that mantle.
Suat Cubukcu: We have seen that some far-right extremist perpetrators are motivated by Islamist attacks, and as retribution, Jihadist groups, like ISIS and A.Q., mobilize far-right extremist groups and trigger a violent far-right attack? We have the example of the Christchurch Mosque shooting in New Zealand as retribution for ISIS attacks in the Western world. How do the far-right groups approach the Taliban's victory and withdrawal of the U.S. military from Afghanistan?
Barbara Perry: I just sort of want to back up a minute and talk about where that Anti Muslim element of the movement is where we have this typology where we identified eight or ten different elements that make up the extreme right in the Canadian context. There's one pillar that is quite explicitly anti-Muslim, although Islamophobia is woven throughout many of the far-right groups and individuals who come to the movement. What's been interesting is that a lot of that the racial narratives, the Islamophobic narratives, all of those kinds of pieces have been overshadowed in some respect in the last year or so by COVID and anti-Asian and anti-Semitic narratives. So it's like Muslims can breathe for a while; somebody else is the focus of your attention. It won't last; it will come back. I think that the resurgence of the Taliban is one of the factors that will give new life to that element. I think we're already seeing stuff online about Afghan refugees, all of a sudden, amongst the far-right chatter, such as "Just as we see these people move across the borders, we're seeing these dramatic increases in crime and sexual assaults against women…." So, those narratives are coming back. And, in part, with respect to refugees, but also, we see it in terms of responses to the Taliban, such as "We need to shore up our defenses because this is the next round of the assault on the West..." They are arming themselves ideologically and, you know, perhaps even in very pragmatic terms for the next incursion as they see it.
Suat Cubukcu: In February 2021, Canada has added three right-wing groups to its list of "terrorist entities," including the Proud Boys and two Neo-Nazi networks. The designation shows Canada's different approach to confronting domestic far-right groups. Do you think terrorist group designation policies for far-right extremist groups are the right direction to solve the issue? What can be the negative and positive outcomes for Canada?
Barbara Perry: I'm ambivalent, at best, about the impact of the designation. When you think about what the consequences are, it really revolves around them. It doesn't make it illegal to be a member of these groups that you know; it makes it illegal to financially support them and that sort of thing. You can seize their resources and freeze their accounts. They don't have a lot of funding, so that's really not very effective there.
I think there are two problems. One is that this actually feeds into their victim mentality that they're the ones that are being persecuted, and they're the ones that are being targeted and silenced by a state overreaching its boundaries. The other thing is that they will simply morph into something else. The Proud boys dissolved, but they've popped up in a different form. I think we saw the same thing with the first series of the designations, which included Combat 18 and Blood & Honour, who did the same sort of thing. They stayed alive for a while, they kept the group, and then the names for a while, but then sort of folded in, and the individuals, as well as the groups, have reemerged another form. So, I think it's just recreating that game of whack a mole that we play with the only online activities associated with the groups. They pop up in a different domain, so I'm not entirely convinced necessarily. I think it says a very powerful symbolic message. But, if that's all we're doing, that's not very much right. I think that there's much more that needs to be done in terms of enforcement and hate propaganda legislation. The language that is used online and offline, the imagery that uses the music is still out there.
Between the government and the social media companies, we haven't been very effective. I think legislative responses a very small piece of the puzzle. I'm more support for community-based organizations, NGOs who are doing the work on the ground is really important in terms of inoculation that is building resiliency within communities, both youth, and adults, to make them better able to recognize when they're being groomed and being pulled in—enhancing critical digital literacy so that people are able to unpack the conspiracy theories rather than buying them wholesale. I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done at the grassroots rather than simply legislative responses.
With a multisectoral and collaborative approach, these organizations shouldn't be left out on their own to fend for themselves, but in fact, need the support of the government, and perhaps in terms of funding, but also then partnerships with education, even with law enforcement and with public health. This is also a public health issue, especially now, in the context of the COVID conspiracy theories there.
Suat Cubukcu: Do you think the U.S. should go in the same direction as Canada in terms of designating domestic terrorist organizations?
Barbara Perry: There are efforts internationally to designate particular groups, and I think that makes it easier than for us to have a collective and multilateral response to these sorts of groups and to be able to identify. So, we all know it when we see it and have the capacity to work collaboratively across borders to confront the challenges. I mean, that's the interesting thing about some of the designations, and when we think back to so many of the Islamic-inspired groups that had been previously designated, few, if any of them, had any presence in Canada.
That's one of the differences; I mean, the groups that have been designated here typically do the far-right groups have a presence here. They haven't engaged in the same level of violence as they have elsewhere, so I think that was why Proud Boys, the Base, and Atomwaffen were designated here because of their history of violence in the U.S. Blood & Honour, same thing, it was because of their history of violence in the U.K. in particular that they were designated here, so it's not just about their past history here is about their potential, so that's what I do like is that it's forward-looking. We don't wait for something to happen here before we designate them.